Getting to know... S.J. Cairns

 

Not all Canadians are all about hockey pucks and maple syrup, eh! Some, like my good friend S.J. Cairns, are a little more mysterious, with a fondness for magic, growly music and smoosh-faced pug dogs.

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Sami-Jo recently released the third book of her SOUL SEER CHRONICLES - “DIVISION” - and is currently working hard on the rest of the series. I asked nicely if she’d give me a few moments of her time to answer a few questions and against her better judgment she agreed. lol

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Me: Hi, Sami-Jo! waves You were one of the unfortunate authors who lost some ground when Booktrope went under. After that disappointment, why did you choose to wait to be signed by Oghma, rather than go the self-publishing route?

SJ: Yes! The fall of Booktrope was shitacular for me as it came 5 days after my first ever book release. Just the luck. However, I had a finished product and could self-publish it immediately as the rights reverted to me. The simplest answer as to why I didn’t continue in the self-publishing world is that I can’t afford it. Things like editing and book covers cost big bucks and I would never expect people to work for free or for “exposure”. Nah son. I don’t play like that. I signed with Oghma Creative Media because I heard great things from authors I knew who worked with them and Casey – Head Honcho – has a soft heart for those like me who have been let down by the publishing world. Oghma Creative Media is a mid-size press and takes care of all the monetary struggles allowing me to publish a book every 9 months. Not something my bank would allow me to do on my own. The bonus is they operate as a family and care about authors. Many of whom I got to meet at their annual retreat.

Me: Outside of your friends and family, who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

SJ: Other authors? Hard to pin down just one as there’s so many with works I’ve fallen in love with over the years. Many help with a kick in the ass when I need it. And some days, I REALLY need it. It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a band of misfit writers and creatives to raise an author.

Me: Magic is an important element in your series. How long has that subject interested you?

SJ: I wish I knew. I wasn’t raised in a family of Magics nor did I have a wayward quasi-aunt to lure me into the dark and arcane. I’ve always fantasized about a world with magic and been drawn to the darker elements of life in general. I think it developed from finding stories with a basis in magic and falling in love with it. And not necessarily from books. TV and movies probably made a big impact as well, though I was an imaginative kid who grew to be a teenager who stole my mother’s books.

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Me: Was it important to you to base your story in your own neck of the woods?

SJ: I don’t know if it was important or just organic to write about cities I grew up in. When the idea for the Soul Seer Chronicles hit me one night – literally out of nowhere – I was in the building I write about across from a large inner-city park. It developed from there by a neophyte writer without a plan, writing skills, or traditional schooling in English lit.

Me: This book is book 3 in your series. Who is your favorite character and who is someone that you’re looking forward to introducing in future installments?

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SJ: Oooh! Such a tough one. Without spoilers for those who haven’t the rest of the books, Aunt Lacey is pretty damn cool since she has the whole immortal, all-knowing leader vibe, but so far my fav is Donovan. He’s fully fleshed out in my mind with a heavy background, a bleak outlook on life, and an arrogance of someone who knows what to expect from everyone he meets. Or almost everyone. He’s a perfect example of the potential someone can reach when given a chance beyond the shitty hand they were given.

As for future characters, that’s easy. Vincent. Oh, Vincent. He’s my favourite character over the entirety of the seasons and is introduced in Book 4. Everything about him is intriguing to me. A Magic of great experience and wisdom with flaws of the everyday person. The depths of his secrets and vulnerabilities make me giddy. I want to explore the nooks and crannies of his brain and display for the world!

Me: What keeps you motivated through the lengthy process of writing and editing a series of several books?

SJ: For the writing part, always wanting to know more keeps me going. I prefer to read series so writing them comes naturally. I can’t remember the last time I bought a standalone novel. Always wanting more. As for editing, not wanting to be a shitty writer keeps me going. Learning the ways of good authors before me and keeping things fresh is the goal. Whether or not I hit the target is a question for me readers. Deadlines also help. I hate being late to anything and missing a deadline makes me feel like a fraud of an author.

Me: What has been the best thing about becoming a published author?

SJ: I would say the other writers I’ve met, but you can be a writer and never be published. Once published, not much changed besides people asking about my books and me stumbling over concise and compelling answers to goad them into buying it. Knowing others have glimpsed the story that popped out of nowhere and could potentially fall in love with it in the manner I have is exciting. It’s another way to connect with others. For an introvert like myself, it’s as bold as I get.

Me: Social media has become a major part of reaching out to one’s fans. What is your favorite platform and why?

SJ: Facebook connects me to those I know in the real world, though also introduced me to writers since no one I knew spoke of writing as a love or a serious career. The ones I met helped me make further connections which led to getting published. They’ve become acquaintances and grew into friends, many of which I’ve met in real life and connect with daily. Without them, I would be less of a writer, author, and person.

Me: If you could offer younger Sami-Jo some writing advice, what would you tell her?

SJ: If I could go back to 2009 to when I started writing this series, I would tell myself

1: To start writing in 1 st person point of view instead of 3 rd so I could save myself the aggravation of changing it later.

2: To worry less about how the reader will perceive my writing and just write.

3: To have the confidence to think big. Big dreams mean big work and a lot of extroverting. Not my strong suit, though I still need to say “Yes” more and worry about the execution of the task when it comes to pass.

Thanks to Sami-Jo for stopping by to talk for a wee while. Please check out Sami-Jo’s books on Amazon and follow her on Facebook. Press the buttons to be “magically” transported…ahem :)

Until next time.

~ G

Excelsior

Stan Lee passed away on the 12th of November. He’d had a good innings and, it’s fair to say, he was remembered well by comic book fans, the comic book companies, and the people behind the movie behemoth that spawned from many of his creations. I too doffed my cap to him, whilst recognizing that he wasn’t alone building the Marvel Universe.

I’m too young to have been collecting comics when Stan was writing them, but old enough to remember “Stan’s Soapbox” and his position of figurehead of the comic book brand I have favored for more than two thirds of my life. I can’t say I was ever directly influenced by Stan’s work, but I was influenced by creators only one or two steps removed from Stan.

If you talk to me for more than five minutes, I’m bound to mention I’m a comic book fan. Luckily for me, my friends were too, and it’s from this mutual love of comic books, and their larger than life stories, that the world of Dynamo City was created. What started off as a roleplaying game -

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- based off the Marvel Superheroes RPG - morphed into something better. We created a new world, new characters, and story after story, producing many hours of fun. From there, we wrote actual stories to fill in the history of the people and the places, and it’s from those early stories that my second novel was born.

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“The Wolves of Dynamo” is a celebration of the world created by three imaginative, and dorky, boys: Alan wrote darker things, his love of Batman, Daredevil, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Excalibur influenced the beginnings of Dynamo City and the core of the mythos behind it. Andrew loved Iron Man, back before Iron Man was everyone’s darling, and the characters he created reflected the intelligence and tech know-how he enjoyed. He bridged more modern ideas with very down to earth sensibilities. The character of Jeff Langford, the Everyman, is also basically Andrew… with millions of extra dollars. Meanwhile, I leaned heavily into wide-eyed wonder, and tended, surprisingly, to create more fantastical elements, tapping into my love of fairytales, science fiction, and magic. Of course, as Dynamo coalesced and grew, the lines between our ideas and stories became blurred as we influenced one another.

The world of Dynamo is enormous. It spawned over one hundred roleplays, which then spawned offshoots: Dynamo Tales; Connery, King & Lees, Network, and even our very own space-centric ideas…a la Star Trek. So, Dynamo grew from a city to a State, to a world, to Otherworlds and the only thing that stopped it was… real life.

The boys grew up and scattered to the four corners of the globe and left behind a catalog of fascinating characters and wonderful stories. It bothered me that we had created so much and now the ideas just sat gathering dust in ring binders. So, we started writing stories based on the characters and ideas we’d created. When this too ground to a halt, I was beginning to make plans to take this writing I was doing and turn it into something I could hold in my hands. I had an idea separate from Dynamo which turned into my novel “Monsters” and after self-publishing it, I got the sparkle in my eye to have another go at Dynamo.

Andrew rarely writes anymore but gave his blessing for Dynamo to continue in novel form. Alan, meanwhile, continues to write, and will hopefully serve up some “Dynamo Tales” as the series of stories progresses. Until then, you should check out his novel The Cold Handshake. A novel in the style of an old school pulp noir.

For now, I have to get back to my thriller/mystery series with Doyle Godwin, but I fully expect to return to Dynamo soon.

So, while I wasn’t directly influenced by Stan, I believe I’m a writer today because of my love of comic books. I enjoyed the X-Men and Avengers - team books - the most, because of the group dynamics, and it’s why I enjoy writing Dynamo with its eclectic cast of characters. The themes featured throughout comic books like X-Men, were also instrumental in me creating a character like Doyle Godwin: an outcast or misfit who only feels like he belongs with the other misfits. The only thing that has influenced me as much as comic books are movies, but that will be a post for another day.

Thanks, Stan.

Excelsior.





When is my next book out?

Do you know what one of the most frequent questions writers are asked?

“When is your next book out?” (Or some variation of that).

For many writers, this is part of the landscape that’s changed a lot over the last ten years. I know my audience wants, or expects, books to be released quicker, and that need has only increased in the age of digital downloads and kindle readers. With so much content available, you don’t have to patiently wait for my next book. Instead, you can jump to the next writer and, if I’m lucky, you might come back when I have another book ready.

So, what’s taking me so long?

 
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The simple answer is: me. I’ve gotten in my own way, more often than not. However, generally speaking, the thing that slows down book releases is EDITING. I hate editing. I hate editing more than someone on the KETO diet craves cake. However, much like cake, editing is a necessary evil. It’s part of the secret juju writers apply to novels in an effort to convince YOU to buy our books.


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Right now I’m editing my third novel. I intend to self-publish, but I still need to have an editor look over my work to make sure it’s polished to a beautiful shine. Before I have to deal with someone else’s deconstruction of my writing, I have to do some of the deconstructing myself. For me, the biggest part of this process involves getting rid of “junk words” or so called “naughty words”. That doesn’t mean swear words… far from it… but it means cleansing my story of useless filler words: adverbs, pointless speech tags, and words that tell instead of show.

I liken it to the idea of trimming fat…violently, with a blunt weapon. Meanwhile, good words build muscular sentences and sculpted paragraphs. And if I do it correctly, you won’t notice when you read it. You might remark, frequently, what a bloody good read it is, but the hope is the magic is retained and your nose is stuck in the book until you finish it.

Examples of words I try to avoid overusing: UP, DOWN, VERY, FELT, THAT, JUST, TOTALLY, QUITE, NOD(DED), SHRUG(GED), SMILED, GIGGLED… you get the idea. These are just some examples of words I’m cutting back on. Now, I know you’re thinking that some of these words seem perfectly fine to you and if you read them in a story, they wouldn’t bother you so much. Take “UP” for example. UP is a perfectly sensible word. However, take this sentence:

Gareth stood up and walked out of the kitchen, his manly awesomeness plain for everyone to see.

Aside from the jokey commentary… clearly I wouldn’t be in a kitchen, what’s the point? If I’ve been sitting in a chair and want to leave, I can just stand. I don’t have to stand UP. You get it! The action is not a mystery to you so why spell it out like you’re a derpy derpster? Sitting is the same. You don’t have to sit DOWN. Just sit.

 

Of course, you can sit UP and can stand DOWN, so we mustn’t just break out the flamethrower and burn all of examples, just the ones where the word is superfluous.

Similarly, speech tags should be used sparingly. We’ve all read dialogue that doesn’t ‘zing’ like a conversation should, but instead is interrupted constantly with staccato bursts of “he said” “he yelled” “he joked” “he hullaballoed”…or something like that. I use speech tags simply as a means to keep track of who’s talking and if that’s apparent by the dialogue, then why bother with a tag?

So, despite shorter release windows, editing still eats up a lot of time. I know some writers who stockpile books to shorten the release time between them to keep their readers on the hook. And there are some who continue to ignore the changes in market demand and wait years between releases. I have accidentally become one of latter, although I hope to up my game in the coming year.

So, when will my next book be out? I don’t have a definitive date set yet, but I promise to let you know. And, I hope you’ll join me in my journey again.

There will be cake.

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Getting to know... Vania Rheault.

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My good friend Vania hails from the icy wastes of North America. I mean, it’s not like “North of the Wall” (Canada), but the only things that can warm the cockles of their icy hearts up there are Prince’s funky music, hot drinks, and a good book.

Luckily, Vania drinks (a lot of) coffee and is the author of several romance books, including her brand new novel “ALL OF NOTHING” and she’s agreed to stop by and warm her hands by the fire while she shares some answers to a few burning questions…


How long have you been writing and what got you hooked?

I’ve been writing at least since sixth grade when we had to write a short story and read it to the class. I remember the story about a family who got snowed into their house. I don’t know what happened after that. I was a weak plotter at 12 years old.

What is the most satisfying part of writing for you: the writing itself, publishing a book, or getting feedback from fans? Something else?

I like giving my characters a happily ever after. Sometimes they act like big jerks, and it’s hard to write them out of it. It’s always a good feeling to whip them into shape.

Characters can be so unruly at times!

Why did you choose to be an Indie/self-published writer and not choose to query and go the traditional publishing route?  

Querying is hard, and traditional publishing is changing. The midlist is shrinking. Romance writers can do very well being self-published if they put out a good story and do a little marketing.

What misconception would you most like to dispel about Indie authors?

All the rumors are true. Haha! So long as there are people who don’t care about what they write (the argument of writing from your heart vs. writing to market), or don’t bother with editors—those rumors that indie writers don’t care about their work, or won’t/can’t/don’t put money into their work will always be true.

You do a ton of research, not just on the creative side but on the book production/marketing side. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned through your research?

Do your research! I can’t believe how many people will try to publish a book without having any inkling of how to do it. There’re millions of free resources out there on the hows whys wheres. It’s true that sometimes you just can’t know something until you go through it yourself, but listen, there’s thousands of authors out there who blog about their experiences. And those publishing platforms that are around to help—they offer their own tutorials and support staff.  The excuse that you “didn’t know what you didn’t know” is no longer valid. Doctors go to school. Lawyers go to school. Teach yourself something.

Probably the most famous mantra for writers is "write every day", or perhaps "write what you know", do you subscribe to these or do you have your own mantra?

I don’t think you need to write every day, but I think in the beginning, writing what you know can make things easier. I’d never set a book somewhere I’ve never been. That doesn’t seem realistic to me. If you’re writing your first book, or just getting the hang of it with your second, I recommend writing what you know. Plot, character arc, that kind of thing, will seem that much harder if you give your character an occupation you know nothing about, or you’re setting your book in Bolivia and you’ve never been there.

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The lead characters in your previous book "Wherever he goes" coincidentally look like famous actors (Anna Kendrick and Joe Manganiello), did you base your new characters on any famous actors, or people you know, for your new book "All of Nothing"?

Actually, back in the day, I used to watch Days of Our Lives. When I pictured Jax, I pictured the actor that used to play Jack so long ago. Let me see if I can drudge up a picture of him. 😉 ———>

Where did you get your inspiration for "All of Nothing"?

I think I was just talking with a friend, and we came up with the “what if” scenario that makes the beginning scene. I’m a big brainstormer. I love talking plots and creating problems. I think about my plots well in advance, so I was puzzling out All of Nothing while I was writing Wherever He Goes. Just like now I have a book plotted out while I was writing All of Nothing. I like to think ahead. But nothing really “inspires” me, per se. I just loving thinking about internal conflict and how to tie that to a twisty plot.

Your followers on Facebook and Twitter have seen the memes you post about coffee and cats. What for you are other writer essentials? Lol

Music, probably. A decent block of time. But coffee is good. I’m going to make a cup right now. 😊

What will success look like to you when all is said and done?

A strong backlist. Readers who look forward to my stories. Maybe an RWA award. I may be an indie, but I still want that validation. 😊If you’re speaking in terms of $$$, it would be nice to write full-time. But even if I got to that point, I know it might not ever last. Such is the life of an artist.

Thank you for stopping by, Vania. I hope your sled-dogs are well rested for the trip back North. lol. I highly recommend you check out “ALL OF NOTHING” available now for your Kindle. Click the BUTTON!

Also, I highly recommend you check out Vania’s blog, which is far more informative and packed full of good stuff than mine is, and check her out on social media. Just click the buttons!

First draft is finished!

It took about a year longer than planned, but the first draft of Dynamo City Book 2 is finished.

 

*pause for a short celebration*

And now back to business. Ugh.

Editing is next and will, no doubt, cause me to fill the air with a myriad of colorful curse words as I pick through my work. Such is the writer's lot: finish a book, only for it to not really be finished at all.

Usually writers like to make their WIPs* longer than they intend to publish, that way when editing is complete and you've slashed a couple of thousand words off your word count, you can still bring the book in to the length you want it to be. Right now, my word count is a little...light since I excised a large chunk of my third act during the writing process.

I know there are a couple of chapters that need some work and filling out, but the trick will be getting the book back to a satisfactory length, while not hurting the story. At the end of the day, it'll be counter-productive to add filler to my novel just to hit a certain word count. Editing is all about tightening the story beats, eliminating the bone-headed stuff, and possibly taking another run at any missed opportunities from the first draft. Did I mention the bone-headed stuff? LOL. You'd be surprised at some of the stuff that gets caught in edits, so it's always good to get rid of them so readers aren't commenting on it in your book reviews!

Once I'm satisfied I've got the best book I can write, I'll hire an editor to then pour scorn on my grammar, punctuation, telling, passive voice, adverbs, vagueness, and the general construction of the story. And after it's been torn apart by an editor, I'll fix it again, and then, maybe, it'll be fit for human consumption.

Wish me luck.


WIPs* = Work(s) In Progress